Venezuela Seeks Peace with Colombia

Chavez to Meet with Santos to Renew Venezuela-Colombia Relations
By James Suggett

Mérida, August 9th 2010 ( – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday he will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia tomorrow with the intention of renewing diplomatic relations and promoting a peace accord to end the decades-old war between the Colombian government and leftist insurgents.

“On Tuesday we will be with the president of Colombia. We are going to initiate a new relationship for the good of both countries, each with their particularities, but with respect,” said Chavez on his weekly Sunday talk show Aló Presidente. “With my two hands extended and with my heart, I show my desire to start over again.”

President Santos, who was sworn-in to his first term as president on Saturday, said he was looking forward to talking one-on-one with Chavez and that he hoped “to arrive at conclusions that help us to normalize relations between the two countries.”

To lay the groundwork for the presidential meeting, Foreign Relations Minister Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Chancellor María Holguín of Colombia, met for three hours in Bogotá after Maduro attended Santos’s swearing in ceremony on Saturday. Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who is the secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), was also present at the meeting.

After the meeting, Maduro stated Venezuela’s willingness to “extend our brotherly hand and give our love to Colombia,” and “to act transparently to increase our capacities for frank and direct dialogue.” He added, “What is coming for Colombia and Venezuela are positive things.”

Similarly, Holguín said, “Today I think Maduro and I have taken the first step with a frank and direct dialogue with the objective of re-establishing relations, relations marked by transparency and frankness.” Presidents Santos and Chavez will take the second step on Tuesday, she added.

Kirchner congratulated the two foreign ministers for a meeting that was “exemplary, clear, and democratic.” He said, “As someone from Latin America, I am gratified by this example of responsibility by both governments.”

Potential Peace Accord with Insurgents
Also during his Sunday talk show, Chavez reiterated his call for the armed insurgent groups in Colombia to free all of their hostages and pursue a peace accord with the government. He had previously called for this in 2008.

“The Colombian guerrillas do not have a future by way of arms... moreover, they have become an excuse for the [US] empire to intervene in Colombia and threaten Venezuela from there,” Chavez declared on Sunday. He demanded that the guerrillas show their commitment to a peace accord through “decisive demonstrations, for example, that they liberate all those they have kidnapped.”

Santos also indicated an openness to talk with the insurgents. “To the illegally armed groups... I say to them that my government will be open to any talks that seek the end of violence and the building of a more prosperous, equal and just society,” he said.

These declarations followed a pledge on August 4th by the National Liberation Army, one of the principal Colombian rebel groups, to hold multilateral peace talks. “We are willing to talk with the Venezuelan government and other governments on the continent to explore the pathways that may make peace in Colombia and our America possible,” said a statement published on the internet and signed by the group’s first and second in command.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, more than 20,000 people attended a “peace chain” demonstration convoked by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela in Caracas (PSUV). The activists linked arms in a line across western and central Caracas. They called for a peaceful solution to the Colombian civil war and expressed their rejection of US-Colombian military collaboration, which they said is being used as a form of aggression against Venezuela, motivated by Venezuela’s rejection of US militarism and free trade policies in the region.

The Ongoing Bilateral Conflict
The goodwill expressed by the two presidents over the weekend contrasted sharply with the animosity that intensified in recent weeks between Chavez and outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Chavez severed diplomatic ties on July 22nd after the Uribe administration presented accusations before the Organization of American States (OAS) that Colombian guerrilla groups take shelter and build training camps in Venezuela. The Uribe administration also brought charges against Venezuela in the International Criminal Court, and called for a multi-national team to visit Venezuela to investigate whether or not there were guerrilla insurgents present.

Venezuela said the accusations were aimed at establishing the basis for a future US-backed military intervention in Venezuela. Minister Maduro convened an emergency meeting of foreign ministers of UNASUR, which in contrast to the OAS does not include the US, to help diffuse the conflict.

Now, it is unclear whether Santos, who served as defense minister under Uribe for three years, will continue to pursue Uribe’s strategy, and speculation abounds as to whether the apparent difference in policy between Uribe and Santos in recent weeks was real or orchestrated.

According to José Vicente Rangel, an investigative journalist and former vice president of Venezuela, Santos and his political allies had to struggle to prevent Uribe from attacking an alleged insurgent camp in Venezuelan territory. Rangel presented the report on his weekly political talk show “Los Confidenciales” and cited intelligence reports from within the Venezuelan Armed Forces.

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